Sunday, 18 April 2010

Fear, Loathing, and Drinks With a Friend

Nobody likes being told what to do. I don't like it, and I'm betting that you don't like it, and I would think that the people in authority hate it as well, probably even more in fact, considering they actually tell people what to do. How they must feel when they get told what to do, man I would not like to feel that. Thankfully, I have almost no authority in any part of my life, so I do not feel the combination of unbridled anger and depression that must come from being someone like Gordon Brown. God forbid. The energy and strength it must take for him just to be him is incredible.

This got confusing...

Speaking about confusion, drugs are a mysterious thing. But no one wants to hear about them. Instead, its time to talk about a subject that seems to be almost directly linked to drugs, Gonzo Journalism.

In the 1970's, a man named Hunter S. Thompson, a self proclaimed"Doctor of Journalism" fashioned a type of writing in which the author would involve themselves so much in a piece of work that they would become part of the story. This illustrious style eventually came to be known as "Gonzo Journalism". This seemed to be a style closely resembling, but with many key differences, the New Journalism movement started by Tom Wolfe. This style, popular in the 60's and 70's, was a form of literary technique, in which Journalism and Prose were intertwined into a mesh of sorts, meaning that a writer could give a frank account of an event, with heavy description, mixing the artistic and literary with the heady Journalism. Some examples of this literary/journalism movement are;

  • Truman Capote's In Cold Blood in which a Capote researches a true crime to the point where he is able to write a non-fiction tale about the whole ordeal, in almost complete prose.

  • Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, In which Wolfe experiences LSD, and write about it at length, reflecting on different people, places and things in a different light along the way.

  • Hunter S. Thompson's The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved a sports article in which Thompson is said to have started the first inklings of the Gonzo movement, by being too close to deadline and ripping pages from his notebook to send in as copy.

Gonzo Journalism was different to the "New Journalism" in the sense that it was very much the same, but a little more dangerous. It disregarded clean and polished Journalism techniques and instead opted for everything to be a little grittier, a little more like an Editorial, and full of profanity. The use of drugs, in particular psychedelics, were a common factor in the creation of a piece of writing, and especially the use of LSD.

Now, I have never tried LSD, and I imagine it's just one of those things that you have to experience first hand before describing it, but from descriptions and readings, I have learned that upon ingesting such a substance, your mind begins to distort things, hallucinate things, and your brain begins to alter its perception of things, in the sense that everyday things that we see every day would suddenly take on different meaning and purpose. In other words, your shit's fucked up.

This brings me almost directly to my new favorite book, written by Dr. Thompson himself, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey into the Heart of the American Dream. Thompson wrote this book as a response to a seemingly ridiculous whim; "What would happen if we got completely blasted and rented shiny car and then went to Vegas at 150mph in Acapulco shirts?". He pretty much answers the question, and the prose that follows makes complete sense, whilst making none at all. At its barest, it is a journey of two men who are completely wasted, with hilarious consequences, but dig deeper and what you see is a harsh criticism of America, humanity, and life. One particular part stuck with me as hilarious and harrowing at the same time, in which Raoul Duke, Thompson's alter ego, and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo are in the middle of "an ether binge", are devoid of all bodily function, and are spouting nonsense whilst being acutely aware of all this, are actively encouraged into a casino. It comments on how the American Dream is essentially broken, how by completely cheating at life, showing no regard for humanity, a casino is successful.

Obviously this is only one of many Thompson articles, and I should not jump to conclusions, but there is something about Gonzo Journalism that strikes a chord. Maybe it is the mix of journalism and literature, perhaps it is the appealing thrill of reckless abandon for the sake of journalistic prose. It could be many things, but it all seems pretty awesome.

Nobody likes being told what to do, even people in power. However, the people who write can be those who answer to nobody. What they write is their own. Hunter S. Thompson was a classic example of this, he took no sass from anybody. He had a distaste for authority, so much so that he strived to bring it down. Plus, he owned many, many guns.

This is a man who refused to wait to die.

(The images seen in this blog are all by Ralph Steadman, a British Cartoonist and Caricaturist who worked with Hunter S. Thompson many times)

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Century of the Selfishness

People are generally pretty thoughtful about other people. But in a very more real and distinct way, they are not. Its amazing how far we have got in this world despite utter and unabashed rudeness and hatred of one another. Now I'm not saying this is good or bad, I'm just saying that it's convenient or inconvenient if you consider the context. Say if a man gives me the finger because I'm a terrible driver, thats just rude. He doesn't know the context. He doesn't know what my day has been like to cause me to drive so terribly, or what horrible diseases I'm suffering from. He's just being a dick. But this human condition of looking out for yourself at the behest of others is one that has been utilized by a particular brand of person for years and years. This is the advertising person. A person that, I think, is best epitomized by this picture...

He's the one on the left.

Who knew advertising people were so devious? Well, everyone, but what I certainly didn't know was the lengths they would go to to be devious. For all the disgusting qualities that advertising people need to possess, such as manipulation, evil thoughts, and a general lack of hygiene, there is something no one can deny; Their cunning. In the documentary The Century of the Self, by Mr. Adam Curtis, or at least the section There is a Policeman Inside Our Head, we were shown quite how cunning these people are, noticing patterns and using the powers of psychoanalytical techniques in order to make people buy things more. Like fools. Rich, angry, drunk fools.

So during the 1950s, people were quite easily influenced. They would be listening to Buddy Holly, having a good time, and they would go and see their Davy Crockett movies, content with the advertising of cars with identical wheels. Like chumps. It was easy to make the people of this time buy anything. They would buy toothpaste simply because of a brilliant and jaunty tune and cigarettes with repetition. I mean, come on, with that many uses of the word "cool" who isn't going to buy those? I'm going to buy some right now. These techniques seem to be derived from both Anna Freud, and Edward Bernays, Freud's nephew, who renowned documentarian Adam Curtis calls "the creator of public relations".

In the 60s, people became more rebellious and headstrong. Now the thing to do was to reject the values and the morals that parents put upon you, rejecting that Archie Comics boy howdy attitude or dare I even say...this.


Yes, rebellion was the thing, a lot of it happening on college campuses, with professors filling the youngsters heads full of ideals, causing them to believe that they were all individuals and they all had an opinion that mattered, and that lots and lots of people were doing very bad thing. The natural response to this was to dress strangely and act even stranger, and certain other elements played a big part in this, such as music, and drugs. Thus begun the age of the individual, and the death of the conformist society.

So in a culture that rejected conformity, which was the life blood of many products, how were companies going to keep going to maintain their cash flow? The production companies were only profitable with large sales of the same mass-produced item, so how were they going to sell a thousand cars that were all the same? The answer was, they weren't. Instead they set up focus groups in order to see what the hell is going on with the people, focus groups that were largely unsuccessful, because many of the individualists refused to join in. The solution to the problem was to advertise in a way that did not focus on the product, but on the consumer.

"We must conform to the new non conformists." A memo said, "We must listen to the music of Bobby Dylan." This move provoked a new range of products, one that appealed to the individualistic person, to their creativity and self-expression, tapping into human potential, to "be what you wanted to be."

Its the sort of stuff that was developed by different psychologists, ones that encouraged us to express our emotions rather than suppress them like Freud would have us do, to let out the anger and show everyone who we were, what we were capable of and who we "wanted to be", and with advertisers egging us on, we were buying things that made us seem individual.

No one is individual. Especially not the people trying to be individual. We may be individual in the sense that we all have original thoughts, and ideas, and we all choose when to pee, but on the surface layer everyone is the same. We all shop in the same stores, and wear the same clothes. Look at your clothes. About 10,000 people in the world are wearing exactly what you are wearing. You could carve up a box for a hat and wear a potato sack, but you would still be part of the select group that wears box hats and sacks.

Its the delusion of expressive individuality that the advertising companies tapped in on, and they were just as in control as they were in the 50s. Like I said, devious.

(Century of the Self, a documentary by Adam Curtis, says these things better than I could. This particular post is in reference to There is a Policeman Inside All Our Heads: He Must Be Destroyed segment. Its incredibly good.)